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Saturday, 28 December, 2002, 01:10 GMT
Football scores 5 Polio 0
James Alexander Gordon
Broadcasting was James Alexander Gordon's dream job

Broadcasting became an obsession with James Alexander Gordon.

But few would have believed that the determined little boy with a speech impediment, caused after contracting polio as a child, would have grown-up to become one of the country's most familiar voices.

For 30 years the radio presenter has been reading the football results for the BBC each Saturday afternoon.

Even though he is now a freelancer, listeners can still hear his distinctive tones.


But as Mr Gordon explains it could have been a very different story had it not been for his dedicated and extremely supportive family, who were thrilled by his success.

He was born in Edinburgh in the 1930's and brought up by adoptive parents after his mother died in childbirth.

Aged just six months Mr Gordon contracted polio and was paralysed.

"They did not know what it was and when my mother took me to the doctor they said it was just a chill.

I would sit and read the football results and the news. I was about eight with a speech defect

James Alexander Gordon

"It was only when my mother got me home that they heard about a polio outbreak in Glasgow."

Up until the age of 15 Mr Gordon was in and out of hospital.

He was schooled in a variety of special schools, but with the encouragement of his sisters and parents he astounded everyone.

His father in particular encouraged him to do try everything he could and refused to mollycoddle him, using love and humour to defuse situations.


"I can remember my father saying to my mother that he was taking me to play golf. My mother said: 'He can't play golf!'

"but he took me.

"I fell into a bunker and I can remember him draining his glass and saying to me: 'Who do you think you are? Lawrence of Arabia?'

"There was always a lot of laughter."

Mr Gordon had a thirst for knowledge and read voraciously from the age of three, everything from Dickens to the theatre reviews in the papers.

His father got him an old radio set and Mr Gordon's love for broadcasting was born.

Child being vaccinated
Polio still exists some in some parts of the globe, including parts of Africa

"I would sit and read the football results and the news. I was about eight with a speech defect.

"My family used to laugh and call me Lord Haw Haw. There was a lot of laughter and love in our home.

"I would listen to the Home Service right up until the time of close down and that was when I first became interested in speech.

"When I was young my father used to do the football pools. I came home once and he was checking his football coupon. He would go through checking and then he would lose track of it.

"I said I could read you that. I also used to read the shipping forecast."

Poliomyelitis (polio)
A highly infectious disease caused by a virus
Invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis in hours
Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck
Mainly affects children under five
No cure but it can be prevented
Polio vaccine can protect a child for life
Mr Gordon said that the only time he'd ever known his father cry was when he read his first proper broadcast.

"My mother and I were chatting and I said how lucky I had been to have them, and that I had never seen my dad cry.

"She said he did once. 'Oh' I said, 'when granny died?' and she said 'No'. 'When granddad died?' 'No. It was the first day you read the news. He said 'the wee bugger's done it.'

And it was Mr Gordon's distinctive intonation that caught on.

"If Rangers had won I would feel happy for them so my voice would go up. If Celtic had lost I would feel sorry for them so my voice would drop.


"To me that seemed logical.

"In those days it was funereal when people read the football scores. So I thought I would make it more musical."

And it certainly proved popular with management and staff, because 30 years on he is still doing the job.

His voice is so distinctive that University students in Sweden were given copies of him reading the football scores to practice their inflexion.

Although the only physical legacy Mr Gordon still carries of his polio is a limp he still works to warn others of the dangers of this preventable disease.

And he is patron of the Lane Fox Unit at St. Thomas Hospital, which deals with post-polio patients.

See also:

25 Sep 02 | Africa
05 Jul 02 | Health
11 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
18 Jun 02 | Health
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